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Whole Blood Lead Reference Interval Update
UC Irvine’s Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine will update the normal range for whole blood lead to <5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) for all ages.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a lead “reference value” based on the 97.5th percentile of blood lead distribution among children aged 1 to 5 years. This is calculated from two, 2- year cycles of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. Although there is no safe level for lead, a blood lead value of 5 mcg/dL is currently used to define when a child has been exposed to higher levels of lead than 97.5% of US children (1,2). At levels of 5 mcg/dL or greater, adverse health effects are possible especially in young children and pregnant women.

Critical call values and electronic reporting of all lead tests will also be updated and maintained in accordance with legislation and requirements of California Department of Public Health Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch (3).

Previous Values: (mcg/dL) Updated Values: (mcg/dL)

Normal Range:

<16 Years: < 10 mcg/dL
>16 Years: < 25 mcg/dL

<16 Years: < 5 mcg/dL
>16 Years: < 5 mcg/dL


Critical Call:

<16 Years: > 10 mcg/dL
>16 Years: > 25 mcg/dL

< 16 Years: > 10 mcg/dL
>16 Years: > 20 mcg/dL

Effective date: June 17, 2020

Specimen requirement and testing information:

Specimen required: 1 mL whole blood in trace metal free tube (K2EDTA) - royal blue tube or lavender microtainer tube. The venipuncture and capillary collection site must be clean to minimize the possibility of external lead contamination.

Test methodology: Inductance coupled plasma mass spectrometry

Test code: LEADBL

Minimum stability:
Ambient: 1 month
Refrigerated: 1 year
Frozen: not determined

Some tests may have extended stability beyond stated minimum limits. See directory for details.

Turnaround time (TAT):
Routine: 1-5 days
Set Up Days: Tuesday, Friday

Rejection criteria:
Specimens that exceed stated stability, unlabeled/mislabeled/mismatched specimens, and specimens submitted in leaking containers, or specimens received with insufficient amounts for testing. Clotted specimens.

See references here

A summary of all tests offered by our laboratory services can be found here:


Bridgit O. Crews, PhD, DABCC
Clinical Chemistry, Toxicology, & Point of Care Testing

Edwin S. Monuki, MD, PhD
Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
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